Arbikie Highland Estate in Angus is leading the way in the decarbonisation of the global drinks sector, with their game-changing pea-based gin Nàdar, setting the tone for a sustainable supply chain for other distillers to follow.
This is the seventh in a series of case studies, developed as part of the 2023 RHASS Presidential Initiative (PI), exploring the science behind food and drink production.
Owners of Arbikie, the Stirlings, have been farming for over 400 years, and since the three brothers who currently run it, Iain, David and John, added the distillery to their operation nearly a decade ago, they have made it their ambition to develop a ‘field to bottle’ model of growing, harvesting and distilling everything on-site.
Working closely with scientists at Abertay University and the James Hutton Institute, they have explored the distilling potential of less conventional crops such as peas and potatoes, which has driven the expansion of the global sustainable spirits’ market.
Their award-winning spirit Nàdar is the world’s first climate-positive gin. It was created by Master Distiller and scientist Dr Kirsty Black and in close collaboration with Agroecologist Dr Pietro Iannetta, from the James Hutton Institute.
Together they explored the distilling potential of leguminous crops, in particular looking at peas, which offer many benefits including their ability to fix their own nitrogen, thus reducing reliance on synthetic fertiliser and reducing environmental impact.
“Nàdar is fully provenanced as a sustainable Scottish product, and when purchased, consumers can be assured, they are also encouraging more-practical crop rotations, helping to reduce artificial fertiliser use, improving soil qualities, and most importantly, directly reconnecting the values of local consumers and farmers, to help realise the most respectful and sustainable of agricultural operations at home,” said Dr Pietro Iannetta.
Iain Stirling highlighted that pressures are mounting on the drinks industry to improve its sustainability record and he hopes the work demonstrated by Arbikie could be replicated and help decarbonise the drinks sector across the world.
“Customers are increasingly demanding more from their produce in terms of sustainability, and we need to be willing to listen to the market and respond,” he explained. “We have an amazing farming industry which is very adaptable and innovative and could supply more in that space if distillers were to ask for it.
“When we launched Nàdar at Abertay University, that was us saluting the scientists, who without, our dream wouldn’t have materialised. Science will be key to helping us to move in this direction more quickly. That is why we have ongoing collaboration with universities and the James Hutton Institute, and are a willing partner in this space.
“We are lucky to work with some of the world’s best bars, retailers, and restaurants, including Atlas Bar in Singapore, retailers like Wholefoods in the US and hotels like the Hilton. It is challenging to supply them as a relatively new business but that is where innovation and creating things that don’t exist elsewhere, really helps. By working with us, we are offering solutions to their want for greater sustainability and playing our part in decarbonising the drinks supply chain.”
George Taylor of the RHASS Presidential Initiative added: “Arbikie Highland Estate is an inspirational story of the Stirling brothers’ vision and hard work, resulting in the production of a great range of sustainable and locally distilled Scottish spirits that are now being sold worldwide.
“Another excellent example of “The Science behind Food and Drink,” where three local organisations in Arbikie, JHI and Abertay University have collaborated and used individual and collective expertise to deliver ground-breaking and world leading results. Alex Stirling would be extremely proud of what his sons Iain, David and John have achieved.”
The RHASS Presidents’ Initiative will culminate with a showcase at the Royal Highland Show, bringing together different sectors and stories from over the past months and creating a legacy of materials which will be made available for anyone to access.